Cookies and Memories . . .

I took a couple of days before Christmas to make Christmas cookies. I guess I was feeling nostalgic and probably missing my mother who has been gone for over ten years now but suddenly decided to include a batch of a favorite Christmas cookie in the bunch – Pfeffernusse. It is a small, roundish cookie with a lot of spice packed into it covered in a thin icing. To those used to cutout cookies loaded with icing and decorations, these might be pretty plain but enjoying a few of them with hot coffee or tea and you know you just found the best of the bunch. Not a difficult recipe but a very spicy one!

Pfeffernusse Cookies (translation: Pepper Nut Cookies)

2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup almond flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground mace
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
5 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons thick sour cream
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Combine all the dry ingredients and set aside. Combine the brown sugar, honey, butter, and sour cream and stir together until melted and smooth. Cool for five minutes and then stir in the flour mixture. Add the egg and vanilla and mix in thoroughly. Bring the dough together into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate four hours to overnight to let the flavors develop.

To bake:
Preheat oven to 350 degree.

Form the dough into balls about an inch in size. A cookie scoop makes this an easy job if you have one. Keep the dough chilled so work quickly.

Place the the cookies on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake approximately 15-18 minutes or until browned on the bottom. Let cookies cool before removing them to a cooling rack. When the cookies are completely cooled, it is time to make the glaze.

Glaze:
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
3 tablespoons of hot water or enough to make a workable glaze. Dip each cookie, face down, into the glaze, let excess drip off, and place on a cooling rack to dry. If you are quick or have a helper, you can use some colorful sprinkles on them.

The cookies can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container.

All Your Christmas Cookies in One Recipe!

When I was little, my mother had a similar recipe for making many kinds of cookies out of one dough. Over the years, it has evolved so here are some of my favorite ways to make use of one cookie dough for a variety of flavors. We used to have Christmas Cookie Baking days with friends and this was always a great way to get started. Another plus is that you can make up all your favorite options listed and refrigerate them and spread out the baking time over several days. This is also your warning . . . December is tomorrow so can Christmas be coming rather quickly?

All Your Christmas Cookies in One Recipe
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons Cream of Tartar
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups butter
3 cups powdered sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons butter flavoring/extract
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Cream butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add in eggs, extracts and spices. Mix in the dry ingredients until well-blended.

Now, you are ready to bake . . . But what kind of cookies do you want to make? All this beautiful dough ready for creation . . . Divide your dough into eight portions and start thinking!

Cherry-Orange Drops
Additions:
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
2 teaspoons fresh orange juice
½ cup diced green and red maraschino cherries
½ cup finely chopped walnuts

Mix in a an eighth of your prepared dough. Refrigerate dough for an hour. Drop by teaspoonfuls on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 5-6 minutes or until golden in a preheated 375 degree oven.

Wedding Cookies
Additions:
Those popular Wedding cookies will take another eighth of your dough Simply stir in 1 cup of finely chopped pecans and chill dough for four hours. When dough is ready, shape into small balls on a parchment-line baking sheet. Cookie scoops make this easy. You don’t want golf ball size here. Bake at 375 degrees until set and browned on the bottom, depending on the size of the balls, about 5-8 minutes. Watch them carefully! Remove from oven and let rest for a few minutes. Meanwhile, prepare a cup of powdered sugar in a bowl. If you happen to have vanilla powder on hand, do put a few teaspoons in the sugar. Now roll each of the warm cookie balls in the sugar and set aside to complete cooling. You want to do this when they are still warm.

Chocolate Cinnamon Balls
Additions:
Similar to the Wedding Cookies but with a spicy, chocolate element. Add in ½ cup finely diced walnuts and ½ cup of mini-chocolate chips. Follow the directions for baking the cookies like the Wedding Cookies. Let the cookies rest before rolling them in a mixture of ½ cup granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, and a dash of ground cloves.

Crispy Cut-Out Cookies
No additions here but you will need to chill the dough a couple of hours to facilitate rolling it out. On a floured surface, roll out the dough to about an eighth of an inch thick. The fun part? Using your choice of cookie cutters to create you edible Christmas good wishes. Place your cookies on a parchment-line baking sheet(s) and bake about 6-8 minutes in 375 degree oven. Watch carefully to insure golden cookies. A quick brush of icing is a cup of powdered sugar and enough cream or milk to form a spreadable icing. Those plastic pastry brushes are great from quick icing. Be sure to have some sparkly sugar or colorful decorations to add before the icing sets.

Gingerbread Men
Additions:
1/4 cup molasses
1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Follow the directions for cooling, cutting, and baking the Crispy Cut-Out Cookies. Hope you have a gingerbread man cookie cutter on hand!

Chocolate Sandwich cookies
Again, no additions but a fun, tasty cookie. Take your eighth portion of dough, divide in half, and roll each into a roll about 1 ½- inches in diameter. Refrigerate a couple of hours and then slice the cookie rounds about an eighth thick and place on parchment-lined baking sheets and bake in 375 degree oven for 5-8 minutes. Let cool a bit before removing to a cooling rack. Meanwhile, carefully melt a cup of milk chocolate chips. Take one cookie and spread some chocolate on the bottom and sandwich it (bottoms sides facing) with another cookie. For a fun decoration, when the cookie sandwiches are done, Melt ½ cup white, mint, or peanut butter chips (Your choice!) and drizzle it over the tops of the cookies and sprinkle with some colorful sugar or decoration.

Sugared Cookies
No additions but some colorful sugar would work well here. As usual, make sure the dough has been refrigerated at least an hour. Scoop up heaping teaspoonfuls of the dough, roll in the sugar, and place about two-inches apart on the parchment-lined baking sheets. Press gently down on each cookie – not TOO thin! Bake for approximately 5-6 minutes or until lightly golden in 375-degree oven. Let rest before removing to cooling racks.

Brown Butter Frosted Walnut-Nut Drops
Additions:
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Mix in the walnuts/cinnamon and refrigerate the dough. Drop dough by teaspoonfuls on parchment-lined baking sheets about two-inches apart. Bake for approximately 5-7 minutes or until golden and set. Now, this is what elevates the cookie to dramatically tasty! In a small pot, melt a stick of butter and watching carefully cook it until it starts to brown, stirring constantly. Remove from stove and add 3/4 cup powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and enough cream or milk to combine. Mix well. It should not be runny but not too thick, either. Add drops of milk or cream if it is too thick. Now, pick up each cooled cooking and dip it halfway into the icing and set back on the cooling rack to set. Before it sets, however, would be a good time to sprinkle some chopped nuts or colorful decorations on them.

Chocolate Peppermint Patty Cookies
Additions:
2 ounces of melted and cooled baking chocolate
Mix the chocolate into your eighth portion of dough thoroughly. Divide in two and form into two rolls about 1 ½-inches in diameter and cool for two hours. Slice off rounds of cookies into approximately one-eighth slices. Place on the parchment-line baking sheets and bake for 5-6 minutes. They should be set but be careful of scorching. Chocolate tends to do that! Let rest on baking sheets before removing to cooling rack. Meanwhile, beat 1½ sticks of softened butter with approximately two cups powdered sugar. Drops of milk or cream helps if it is too thick. You need fluffy and spreadable here. Tint it with a tiny bit of red food coloring to get a pink hue. You can add ½ cup of crushed candy cane to the frosting or simply flavor with a drop of peppermint extract.

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies
Prepare the dough and baking as shown above for the Chocolate Peppermint Patty cookies. This time, beat together ½ stick of softened butter, 1 cup peanut butter, 1 cup powdered sugar, and enough cream or milk if it needs thinning down a bit. Fill the cookies as shown in previous recipe. For an added treat, melt 1 ½ cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips and dip each cookie half way in and then set on waxed paper to set.

Yes, I know there are eleven choices here. You can pick our favorite eight! You can also divide a couple of your ‘eighths’ of dough in half which would work well with the drop cookies to try all eleven ideas.

Quick Gingerbread cake

I think that Gingerbread has to be one of my favorite flavors. It reminds me of the onset of the holiday season and seems to go so well with a cup of hot tea and a little peace and quiet.

Quick Gingerbread Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup molasses
1/3 cup softened butter
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Mix together the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Warm up the molasses and butter until the butter is melted and mixed in. Add the egg and buttermilk to the dry ingredients, incorporate a bit to break up the egg and then mix in the warm molasses mixture.

Bake in either 2 vegetable-oil sprayed 8-inch cake pans or a 9×13 oblong baking pan.

Bake for approximately 20 minutes or until top springs back when lightly touched. Cool and serve with fresh whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. Butter pecan ice cream can be pretty festive!

Long lasting whipped cream.

In order to make your whipped cream a hour or so ahead, whip up a pint of heavy whipping cream with 1/4 cup sour cream until it holds a peak. Add a bit of vanilla or almond extract for the final beating. Be careful, you don’t want to turn it into butter! Serve immediately or put in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.

Sherry Lemon Bundt Cake

Years and years ago, my mother came across a recipe that we have been baking for the family almost every holiday since then. The cake takes on the subtle tang of the included cream sherry and the spices enhance the overall flavor. If it lasts more than one day, it gets better with a little age. Top it with a lemon glaze and people will think you spent hours in the kitchen. Just don’t let them catch you putting the cake mix in your grocery cart!

Sherry Lemon Bundt Cake

1 package yellow cake mix
1 four-ounce box instant vanilla pudding mix
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup cream sherry
4 eggs
Grated zest of one lemon

In a mixing bowl, add the cake mix, pudding mix, spices, oil, sherry, eggs and lemon zest and blend with the mixer until blended. Pour batter into a vegetable oil-sprayed bundt pan. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 50 minutes or until top is nicely browned and a toothpick inserted toward the center comes up clean. Remove from oven and let cool 15 minutes and then turn out onto serving plate.

Glaze:
1 ½ cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

Ideas:

If you don’t care for the taste of the sherry, you can use juice, water, or milk.

Not crazy about lemon? Substitute orange for the lemon in the cake and glaze recipe.

Want to add some mini chocolate chips? Well, no one will stop you.

½ cup of finely chopped nuts can only add to the ‘health’ factor, right?

Don’t have a bundt pan? You can bake the batter in cake tin rounds or in an oblong baking pan.

With this basic recipe, you can use any flavor cake mix or pudding you like. This is the basis for some very creative cake inventions.

Christmas Baking . . . It is Never to Early to Plan!

The weather is finally getting cooler in the evenings and, hopefully, foretells the coming of an Autumn season with some chances of having a reason to heat up the oven and begin some holiday baking. My first baking of that season is usually fruit breads. My favorite came about when I had leftover yams and I try never to let a leftover go to waste. My husband insists that everything we eat has roots way back to the first meal I fixed for him. I like these substantial loaves full of everything but the kitchen sink that stand up to a slather of butter, toasting, or just slicing and eating straight from the oven. There is also a lot of latitude for creativity and anyone who knows me, knows that I always find a twist in everything from my sewing to my baking. My husband’s only complaint in life is that I can never exactly replicate a favorite meal or baked good as I tend to stray off the printed pages of the cookbook . . . when I use one!

Besides the yam bread, I’ve included some ideas for making several other types. And, remember, as with ‘icing on the cake’, it never hurts to put a lemon glaze to soak into a tasty loaf of sweet bread when it comes out of the oven.

Yam Bread

2/3 cup shortening
2 2/3 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 cups cooked yams
2/3 cup water
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2/3 cups coarsely chopped nuts
2/3 cup raisins (optional)

Whip up the yams until fairly smooth.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease bottoms only of two loaf pans, 9x5x3 inches.

Mix shortening and sugar in large bowl. Add eggs, yams, and water. Blend in flour, baking soda, salt, baking power, cinnamon, and clovers. Stir in nuts and raisins. Pour into pans. (If batter seems too dry, you can always add bits of juice or water but go slowly as you don’t want it runny.)

Bake about an hour or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Loosen sides of loaves from pans; remove and cool completely before slicing.

Pumpkin Bread
Substitute yams for 2 cups of canned pumpkin.

Zucchini Bread
Substitute 3 cups shredded zucchini. Blend in 2 teaspoons vanilla with the clovers. Decrease baking time to under 60 minutes

Banana Bread
Substitute 3 very ripe, smashed (and it ain’t easy getting them drunk!) bananas

Cranberry Walnut Bread
One cup roughly chopped fresh or frozen cranberries and ½ cup toasted, chopped walnuts.

Final Holiday Baking of 2015!

There is always a degree of anticipation when I plan my Christmas baking and decide on recipes, add a new discovery, and make sure that all gifts of cookies include favorites for the various people receiving the goodies. I completed my holiday baking, yesterday, and had the usual let down of being finished and not having to start the day with culinary creations.

This year, I baked with wheat flour for those who have no problem with gluten and made a special batch of pumpkin spice donuts for a friend who needs to avoid gluten. It was interesting that when I was baking all gluten-free, I longed for the easier days of baking without thought using all-purpose flour. This year, I got to do both and when I had my wheat flour backing day, I missed the challenge of the gluten-free baking. I guess I’ve gotten acclimated to both sides of the cookie sheet now!

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Christmas Cookie Baking!

Practiced some holiday baking during the week. Our church had an Advent Festival so I brought in some homemade treats for them to sell. For the first time in a couple of years, I baked with wheat flour and enjoyed it quite a bit! Yes, I can duplicate just about any wheat flour recipe using gluten-free ‘flour’ blends but it was nice to go back to my old methods just for the day.

I had another reason for bringing wheat flour offerings. My husband is gluten-sensitive so having wheat flour in the house doesn’t bother him unless he eats anything made from it. However, people with celiac can be effected by just being around wheat products and since my home is not thoroughly ‘cleansed’ of all that is gluten, I don’t like to advertise my treats as being gluten-free when they might not be safe for someone with more sensitive issues.

I am able to just about replicate a good loaf of bread without using wheat flour now, but it was great to just through together a ‘regular’ batch and get the feel of the real deal under my hands. I suppose that might account for the fact that I kind of went overboard in my baking . . . just having too much fun!

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